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As a mental health nurse myself, I'm constantly looking out for literature, documentaries, articles, essays and any other form of media to expand my knowledge. Mental illness is a rather taboo subject and there is so much work being done to break down the barriers of stigma and discrimination and much of the information supplied to society about mental illness is more factual than realistic. The Locked Ward is a memoir dedicated to O'Donnell's 7 years experience as a nursing assistant in a psychiatric ward and throughout the book the author has supplied the reader with insightful information about certain illnesses and interesting little tidbits about psychiatry.
Throughout the book I felt a strong bond with each patient and staff member described, whether I liked them or not. O'Donnell successfully described mental health problems such as depression, psychosis and schizophrenia which I feel are misunderstood illnesses, and he captured the delicacy of how the illness can affect a person's entire being, not just their mind. O'Donnell conveys an empathic and sensitive tone throughout the book even during the humorous parts to ensure that the reader is clear that he is not poking fun at the patients but merely describing funny events during his time on the ward. At times he shows a protectiveness over patients and describes their mental health problems in depth and with detailed sensitivity and honesty regardless of whether he bonded therapeutically with them or not.
I also enjoyed O'Donnell's portrayal of staff who worked within the unit, he described the work ethics perfectly within a ward. As a nurse myself I could identify with many of the interventions carried out such as constant observations, restraint and administering medication, and he really focused on the importance of a strong, supportive team. When you're working in a unit where you're on high alert throughout the shift its so important to have a supportive team behind you and the relationship he had with his fellow nursing staff was inspiring.
Although I felt that his portrayal of his experiences of psychiatric illnesses were honest, I felt uncomfortable with the high volume of violent experiences described within the book. In no way am I saying that violence does not occur within the wards of psychiatric facilities, but I felt that he focused on detailing the violent incidents rather than calmer occurrences. I felt that O'Donnell made much more of an effort to describe the violent, aggressive patients rather than discuss those who were not as aggressive or violent to keep the reader enticed and interested.
Overall I felt that this was a very well written memoir of a nursing assistant with 7 years of experience working within a psychiatric facility. I would definitely recommend this to anyone working in mental health nursing or just generally anyone who would like a detailed, honest insight into the taboo world of mental illness.
Dennis O'Donnell spent 7 years working in a Scottish hospital and this is the account of his time there. It takes a special type of person to work in Mental Health services, and though O'Donnell ultimately leaves the Locked Ward, he clearly is one of those people, made all the more remarkable by the fact that this wasn't his life long vocation, having previously worked as a school teacher (some might say an equally challenging role).
If you've ever wondered what it's like to work on a psyc ward, this book will tell you. I've worked in mental health and wandered on and off inpatient wards (though obviously never locked ones like this) and it really is the sort of place that can be hard to describe to those who've not seen it, and yet this book managed to do just that. It seamlessly weaves together many areas. We learn about how wards like his are run, what a day to day routine looks like and so on. We hear about the different types of mental illness, how they manifest themselves, how they are treated, and how they can wreak havoc on those they affect, and those who are close to them. We are introduced to a great cross section of patients with their individual idiosyncrasies, triggers and coping mechanisms, and this diversity only serves to reinforce the idea that you should see the patient, not the diagnosis.
It's funny because if some of the things that occur in the book were the result of a few too many drinks, you'd never think twice, but because of the nature of the patients and what's driving them to behave in that way, I was a bit wary at times. I needn't have worried. It's amusing in the way kooky anecdotes can be but it's never specifically cruel or exploitive.
The word 'Memoirs' in the subtitle initially made me think these tales were set further in the past, and I'm not the only one - many colleagues seeing me reading it made comments about the era of asylums and so on. In fact, it spans a 7 year period starting in 2000 so is as recent as can be. It's an account of one ward in one hospital so how common the stories are (and how representative of similar wards) is up for debate. As you'd expect, names have been changed, all identifying details altered to protect the patients concerned. I imagine there is some aspect of fictionalization to it but I also imagine that the stories are based on truth and that the overall vein is an honest one.
I really enjoyed the book as it was easy to read but full of little nuggets of information that answered questions I'd pondered before, things I'd always wondered about. If I'm being picky, I'll say I wasn't a massive fan of the Scottish-ness of the writing, but I don't tend to like thick dialect in books anyway, regardless of origin. Otherwise, though, it's an interesting read that really does give the inside story on a very unusual place. Recommended.
This review first appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk
The book will be published in January 2012